January 9, 2013
(Posted by Xavier)
This adventure actually started while watching a TV commercial in Baltimore. Don’t ask me what the commercial was about, all I know is that while casually watching, I see a couple walking down a beach all summer-like when all of a sudden there are penguins on the beach with them. I say to Kristin “Wow, look at that! That would be so cool to do. I wonder where that is?” She says back to me, “Oh, that’s in New Zealand”. So today our quest is to see the penguins.
We make our way back to the Moeraki boulders and stop this time in the sleepy little fishing village of Moeraki at what turns out to be a restaurant called “Fleur’s Place” (a must, per Lonely Planet). We walk in as they are just opening up and we start talking to two women who tell us a bit about the area and where we can find some penguins on the beach. They draw us a map of how to get to some remote areas. It wasn’t until later that we found out that one of the kind ladies was Fleur herself.
With map in hand we set off. Up around through the countryside we go to the first beach stop. No penguins, just a few seals resting on the beach. Off to the second site. No penguins, but a whole bunch of seals, even some on our walking path high on the cliff. One seal spooked me as I was looking off in the distance for penguins. I guess he didn’t like me ignoring him.
Back to Fleur’s Place for lunch and to re-group in our search. Ok, one second here to say that our lunch at Fleur’s Place was first class. Fleur is recognized in New Zealand as one of the country’s foremost chefs. It was an absolutely wonderful experience in New Zealand dining.
Our final destination for the day is Dunedin, further down the coast. We see there are two other stops along the way, plus two other beaches just outside Dunedin known for penguin spotting. We stop at every beach and walk out to see if we can spot them. No luck. Feeling a little down we reach Dunedin around 6:30pm. We decide to try one last beach. We set off and get side-tracked to see a castle on the highest point in Dunedin. After viewing the castle and its beautiful grounds Kristin feels my disappointment in not finding the penguins. She suggests a different route to one last possible beach for penguin spotting. Let’s give it one last try and then call it a day.
In no time we make this last remote beach – Sandfly Bay. We get the last possible parking place. It’s packed. Good sign. We jump out and make our way to where we think the beach is. No beach in sight, just rolling hills and cliffs. We read a sign that says penguin viewing hide (New Zealand way of saying viewing platform or hut): 45-minute walk. Backpacks, water bottles and cameras in hand off we go. One last chance to see the penguins. Down the steep hillside path to the steep sand dune path we go, and see off in the distance a long deep beach and the viewing hide on a small hillside over looking the remote beach. We ask people returning if they saw penguins and they all say they saw just one. One is all we need to complete our quest, so we press on.
We make our way down onto the beach. It’s a beautiful warm sunset and it’s nearly 8pm. Remember it doesn’t get dark until 10. Kristin and I are walking along when I spot two small objects near the water. Could it be? We get closer and through the telephoto lens of our camera I see that it is indeed two penguins! They are the rare yellow-eyed penguins. We stop high up on the beach to avoid blocking what could be a natural opening in the sand dunes where their protected nesting area might be. The two penguins paced back and forth for a while and when they thought that it was safe to proceed they quickly walked up the beach together and into their protected nesting area. It was quite clear to me that if they could have held each other’s hand on their walk up the beach they would have. It took my breath away to see them together on their quest in life. And as quickly as they disappeared another pair of penguins came jetting up onto the beach. Wow! Not just one pair, but we were seeing a second pair of penguins. They too marched closely together up the beach to the safety of their protected sanctuary.
On our way back across the beach a park ranger asked if we saw any penguins. We said we saw two pairs! She was happy for us. We were happy. And I will always have this wonderful memory of penguin pairs as they scampered across the beach together in their quest for life.